Guiding Principles of Agricultural and Food Policy Formulation


Guiding Principles of Agricultural and Food Policy Formulation

In this article, you will learn the basic principles guiding the formulation of agricultural and food policy in developing countries. 

You will also learn those factors that could undermine the autonomy of national food systems.


Guiding Principles of Agricultural and Food Policy Formulation

Guiding Principles of Agricultural and Food Policy Formulation

In a fundamental sense, the provision of food represents the raison d’etre that is, the reason why something exists of the agricultural sector of any nation. 

Food is the only resource or contribution (to the economy) that is peculiar to the agricultural sector.

However, food and agricultural policies often differ from country to country. Bearing this in mind, certain carefully articulated principles (or ground rules) should guide the design and formulations of food policy to enable it promote national development.

These principles are what the South Center 1997 describes as the five (5) dimensions of food security.

The basic principles guiding the formulation of agricultural and food policies in developing countries are:

1. Food sufficiency

2. Autonomy

3. Reliability

4. Equity

5. Sustainability

Let go to details


Read: Pre-Conditions for Agricultural Policy Formulations

1. Food Sufficiency

National food sufficiency is attained when the food system of a nation possesses the capacity to produce, store, import, or otherwise acquire sufficient food to meet the needs of all its citizens at all times.

Thus, national food sufficiency requires that a nation should be in a position to determine her available productive capacity, and food import capacity (which is related to her revenue) as well as strategically use storage reserves to buffer the effect of shortfalls in food supplies.

In most developing countries, food production is still carried out in the traditional rural farm sector by smallholders with debilitating resource constraints.

Thus, assessing the productive capabilities of these smallholdings, and their potentials for production expansion using improved inputs.

Usually, optimum domestic production capacity is attained when nations adopt the comparative advantage principle by concentrating on the production of those crops that she enjoys comparative advantage in its production and exports, while importing those foods for which it has comparative disadvantage in their production.

Domestic food production capacity can be expanded by the adoption of yield-increasing technologies and practices by farmers. This calls for investment in research, technology generation and transfer, and the requisite ancillary institutions.

Food import, which is also a component of food sufficiency, is related to the size of government revenue and should be used to complement domestic food supplies strategically.

Food importation should be resorted to when domestic production and stored reserves are temporarily inadequate to meet a country‘s food needs.

Another crucial component of national food sufficiency is the maintenance of strategic food reserves in designated places throughout the country. 

Nigeria‘s agricultural policy devolves this responsibility to the various state government.

Food reserves or buffer stocks are necessary to complement domestic production shortfalls, and to stabilize food prices thereby providing incentives to farmers and consumers. It could be seen that increasing food sufficiency should form an integral part of a country‘s overall development strategy and style.

2. Autonomy

This is also a very important dimension of food policy and security. The principle of autonomy or self-reliance emphasizes that nation states should not be subjected to the dictates of other nations, transnational institutions, and multinational corporations in determining the policies and rules affecting their food systems.

Increased national food sufficiency, if properly harnessed and managed can contribute to increased autonomy. Nations with weak import capacity, such as unstable revenues and volatile economies, may have to increasingly rely on domestic food sources to enhance their food system autonomy.

Even where national import capacity is not weak, autonomous food policy is enhanced if international trade relations are based on the comparative advantage principle.

Nations should produce those foods for which they have comparative advantage in terms of resource endowments, markets, and skills, and import those foods for which they suffer comparative disadvantage in production relative to other countries.

Over-reliance on food imports, especially of basic staple, can be harmful to the long-term strategic survival of a country.

Consequently, to improve autonomy, the long-term objective of any country should be to minimize her dependence on imports of basic food staples.

The following factors could undermine the autonomy of national food systems:

i. Food aid especially for genuine emergencies is often necessary on humanitarian grounds. But food aid to developing countries is usually prone to abuse. 

Poorly administered food aid increases dependency, and depress food prices in the receiving country thereby diminishing incentives for domestic producers. Also, food aid can dampen pressures on recipient states to adopt necessary reforms and policies to strengthen domestic food systems. 

These help to undermine the autonomy of national food systems.

ii. International debts burdens: Similarly, the burden of large foreign debts could reduce the food system autonomy of any nation. Under this circumstance, resources are preferentially allocated to the servicing of these debts, rather than the provision of inputs, institutions, incentives, infrastructures, and innovations for domestic production.

Moreover, the necessary structural adjustment programmes that are usually demanded by the creditors often favour imports and marginal activities to the detriment of local production and incentives.

iii. Intellectual Property rights (IPR): There is at present a new source of loss of autonomy. The food system autonomy of most developing countries is in danger of being further eroded by the new protection given to intellectual property rights under the Trade related Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement.

This was negotiated as an integral part of the 1995 Uruguay Round and administered by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The TRIPS agreement is likely to reinforce the trend towards reliance on patented seeds purchased from large seed multinationals, thus adding increasingly to the costs of small farmers who traditionally relied on exchange of seeds within the local farming communities or villages.

The TRIPS agreement is therefore likely to improve the prospects for profits by large seed multinationals corporations to the detriment of small peasant farmers and local crop diversity.

iv. Funding of international agricultural research: The present structure and direction of international agricultural research poses great threats to the autonomy of the food systems of developing countries. 

Although developing countries conduct agricultural research through their national agricultural research system (NARS), most important breakthroughs in research have usually occurred at the International Agricultural Research Centre (IARCs) whose funding is from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The CGIAR is an informal network of donors, multilateral and transnational institutions dominated by the developed countries.

It therefore goes without saying that research agenda in these international centres may largely reflect the perceptions and concerns of developed country donors and scientists, to the neglect of developing countries interests and expectations.

3. Reliability

The principle of reliability implies that the food system continues to supply adequate foods even during periods of seasonal and cyclical variations in climatic and socio-economic conditions. 

The system is resilient enough to withstand the impact of exogenous shocks such as natural disasters, climatic changes, policy reversals and stoppage, and society induced changes in the production and consumption environments.

It is generally recognized that reliable access to food could be jeopardized by natural disasters such as droughts, earthquakes, and outbreaks of pests and diseases; and man-made ones including armed conflicts, sharp fall in commodity prices, fluctuations in foreign exchange rates and earnings; loss of major markets, or imposition of economic embargoes.

However, a reliable food system should be able to anticipate, contain, and withstand these forces and threats at least in the short-run.

In essence, promoting base, especially the encouragement of the cultivation of resilient and drought-resistant food security crops and breeds of livestock, the prudent and judicious use of food imports and the expansion of a country‘s import capacity; and the strategic management of national food reserves in the overall interest of food producers and consumers. The role of the state is very crucial on these issues.

4. Equity

The principle of equity deals with distributional issues. The central issue in any discussion of food security is the assurance that every social group and individual in the economy has access to adequate food at all times and at the right quality.

Globally and in most countries, statistics have shown that there is already enough food available to assure food security for all, as well as the potential for producing a great deal more using existing technologies.

Despite, this however, there is still widespread malnutrition and hunger, suggesting that the root cause of inadequate access to food is primarily distributional or institutional. Therefore, equitable access to food should be a fundamental guiding criterion of food policy.

It has been suggested that if the distribution of food is based on individual nutritional needs as opposed to access to production resources or income, perhaps hunger would have long been wiped out from the face of the earth.

But unfortunately, this is not so. Except perhaps in the moribund socialist or communist state, where the government intervenes to provide individual with food on the basis of need, food distribution and the associated equity considerations will continue to be an area of policy attention.

Market-based food distribution arrangements should provide enough incentives to farmers for continued production, guarantee fair prices that do not harm the pockets of consumers, while not neglecting the food needs of the ultra-poor who lack access to income and production opportunities.

This is central principle of equity in food system. Equity can be achieved through institutional reforms that reduce inequality and promote greater access to income opportunities and production resources by a greater majority of the population.

Such reform measures might include a more egalitarian land are distribution policy, land tenure reforms, income redistribution through progressive taxation input subsidy for smallholders, and the provision of basic infrastructures in the rural areas. All these should be contained in any realistic policy of agrarian reform.

However, agrarian reform entails much more than the redistribution of rights to land and water. Rural smallholders have to gain education, health, access to credit, markets, appropriate technologies, employment, education, health services, and other basic amenities.

Developing country governments usually involuntarily exhibit an unhelpful degree of urban-bias in the provision of basic rural amenities in pursuit of equity considerations may require the mobilization, sensitization and strengthening of autonomous rural groups such as peasant organizations, community development associations, coo-operative societies, rural credit associations, and clubs to articulate the case for the rural majority.

Equity and reliability are perhaps the two attributes of effective food policy that encourage active state intervention in the food sector to remedy the limitations of the market mechanism.

The importance of equity has clearly been demonstrated by recent observations in low income countries like Cuba, SriLanka, China and the Indian State of Kerala where public policies and institutions accord a high priority to the equitable distribution of available food. 

There, the proportion of undernourished people is low, in comparison with widespread malnutrition in several richer countries without equitable policies.

5. Sustainability

The sustainability of the food system is one principle that is increasingly gaining currency since the United Nations World Conference on Environment and Development (WCED) popularly referred to as the earth summit, in 1994.

Sustainable development requires that the present generation should meet their food needs from the resources of the earth without compromising the capacity of future generations to also meet their needs. This implies that the current production and consumption patterns should not in any way jeopardize similar activities in the future.

In this regard, environmentally unfriendly production and consumption patterns leading to land degradation, desertification, deforestation, pollution, and over-cultivation, nutrient-mining, over-fishing, loss of biodiversity, atmosphere ozone layer depletion, soil erosion, pesticide toxicity, and water depletion should be discouraged.

Furthermore, technologies and practices promoting intensive use of nonrenewable resources should be discouraged. Sustainability also has a social dimension. 

The social dimension of sustainability demands that production and consumption patterns that create major social disruptions, inequalities, and intra-and inter-group conflict, gender problems should be avoided.

Similarly, an economically sustainable food policy should ensure fair prices and incentives for all participants in the food system.

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